A SHOT split the air, and Garrett Wreckley crouched behind the fence post directly in line with the front door of the dilapidated wood-sided home. Once, it might have housed a family who raised their kids, went to work, and did their best to get by. But that was a different decade… a different time. Now death and decay infested the place, drugs rotting the people on the inside and spreading their disease outward as far as the inhabitants could push it.

“Come out and you won’t be hurt,” one of the negotiators called from behind him. Garrett didn’t have the time to worry about who it was. His head went in a million directions at a time like this. Garrett needed to stop this mind-wandering shit and focus.

The answer was another shot, this one away from him. Other officers swarmed around the sides of the building, giving the inhabitants a wide berth until it was time to move in. Garrett waited for the go-ahead and then the smash of doors as officers swarmed the house. With a wild yell, he raced up the walk and crashed through the front door like the Hulk. The front room was empty, so he went to the next.

A man, stoned out of his mind, sat in the corner of the dining room, trying to get his legs under him.

“Stay down!” When the man continued his efforts to stand, Garrett pointed his gun at him. “I said, stay down.” Blood flooded with endorphins and testosterone, fueled by enough caffeine to wire an elephant, raced through his veins. His finger already on the trigger, he repeated his call, ready to shoot. Garrett’s hand shook just a little as his gaze narrowed to a pinpoint. He’d blow him away in a split second if the idiot didn’t listen. “Just give me a reason,” Garrett whispered under his breath.

“The house is secure…,” a voice came through his radio, but Garrett ignored it. The man in front of him—small, painfully thin—rose but stayed in the corner. Garrett didn’t lower his gun at all.

“Hey, I have him,” Coleridge half whispered.

Garrett didn’t move, not looking away from the dirty, scraggly man for a second.

A hand touched his shoulder, pulling Garrett out of the spell he’d been under. His vision returned to normal, and Garrett began breathing once again.

“It’s all right. I have him. The guy is completely stoned.”

Garrett slowly lowered his weapon. Without a word, he let Coleridge take the man into custody, holstered his gun, and left the house. He didn’t speak to anyone as he walked through the sea of police cruisers until he got to his own, where he sat behind the wheel, heart still racing but slowly returning to normal. He started the engine and turned the air-conditioning to full blast to try to cool his skin and evaporate the sweat that was everywhere.

After a few minutes, Garrett put the car in gear and headed through the streets of Baltimore and back into the station.

“Good bust,” one of the guys said as Garrett passed. He answered blankly, going right to the computer at his desk to write up his report. Not that he had a great deal to say, but he got it done and sent off before finally allowing himself to take a deep breath and a look around.

The station was about as old as Garrett felt—damned near ancient, even though he was only twenty-nine. Not that it fucking mattered in the least.

His phone rang and he snatched it up.

“Get in here,” the captain growled, and for a second, Garrett wondered what had crawled up his ass. Then he realized it was probably him and swore under his breath. “Now!”

“On my way,” Garrett answered blankly, and headed to the captain’s office in the nicer portion of the building. He rapped lightly on the door and entered at the call.

“Shut the door,” Captain Rodriguez said, and Garrett complied, taking a seat across from him. “You are out of control.” The captain was in his midforties, with intelligence radiating from his eyes like a beacon—one Garrett didn’t particularly want shining on him at the moment.

“Excuse me…?” Garrett asked.

“You nearly shot an unarmed suspect crouching in a damned corner. The guy was harmless, and yet every officer on the damned task force heard you yelling at him. The guy already had his damned hands in the air and had peed himself, and you stood there with him at gunpoint like you were fucking Rambo. Wreckley, you’re a complete mess and out of fucking control. I checked your duty roster, and you haven’t worked less than sixty hours a week in six months. To say you’re burned out is an understatement. You’re a damned husk and running on coffee and goddamned Cheetos. You have to get your shit together, and you need to do it now.”

“I will, sir.” Maybe some real food and a good night’s sleep would help. Hell, maybe he could find a little company and spend some time at a club. A day off actually sounded pretty good.

“You’re damned right. You have several weeks of vacation, and you’re going to use some of it. I expect you to fill out a request in the next half hour, and I don’t want to see your ass in here for at least a month.”

Garrett swallowed. “A month?” What the hell was he going to do for an entire month? He barely kept ahead of the ghosts chasing him as it was, and now… a fucking month on vacation, with hours to think? He would go fucking crazy.

“Yes.”

“What do I do?” Garrett asked a little absently, not intending to say anything out loud.

“I don’t know.” The captain’s voice softened a little, but not much. “You grew up here, and as I remember, you said once you used to sail. Rent a damned boat and sail around for a while, who knows? Do I look like a travel agent? Go somewhere warm, to a resort, sit on the beach, watch men parade around in rainbow thongs or whatever it is you like. I don’t know. But as of right now, you’re on vacation and barred from the building for a month, so go set something up, figure some shit out, and when you come back, have your head screwed on right or I’ll have to find a shrink who’ll do it for you, and you don’t want that on your record.” He picked up a file, and Garrett took that for a dismissal.

He left the office and went back to his desk, complying with the captain’s directive and requesting vacation time, grumbling under his breath the entire time.

“Heard the bust went really well,” Brent Ogilvie said as he perched on the edge of Garrett’s desk, flashing Garrett a bright come-hither smile. Brent hadn’t been shy about his attraction, and he was adorable… at least he would be under most circumstances to many people. He had huge, wide, puppy-dog eyes in deep brown, a mouth perfect for work down south, and a head of hair as black as night that was always going in a million directions, but on him it was perfection. Not that Garrett had really noticed—much—or cared.

“I think it did. Others have their opinion.” Garrett yanked open his desk drawer and nearly dumped the entire thing on the floor. He stared into it and then closed it harder than he needed to.

“You know….” Brent shifted to give Garrett a better look at the goods. “I’m off in an hour….” He cocked his eyebrow slightly and arched his back just a bit, leaving little to interpretation.

“I’m heading out now, and I’m on vacation for the next month.” Garrett paused, thinking that Brent might not be a bad way to start.

Maybe a little time getting off would be good. But as messed up and stressed as he was, even he knew that getting involved with Brent Ogilvie in any way was a huge mistake. The guy had long-term relationship written all over him, and Garrett was already married… in his heart.

“I appreciate the kind words, but I have to get out of here before the captain chops my nuts off. I’ll see you in a month.” He grabbed his old canvas backpack, slung it over his shoulder, turned off his computer, and hurried out of the station before anyone else stopped him. The rumor mill would fill them in quickly enough, and since he was on vacation, he wasn’t going to have to be around to hear what it came up with.

 

 

HIS HOME, what remained of it, resided in the Mount Vernon section of town. It had been David’s dream. Now it was hollow. Garrett’s footsteps echoed on the parquet floors and through rooms devoid of life. At one time Garrett had dreams too, but now he just existed, without a damn thing he could do about it. He’d been left to pick up the pieces, and all things considered, Garrett thought he was doing pretty well. Of course, that was his opinion and everyone else could go to hell, so it wasn’t necessarily unbiased.

The downstairs rooms were largely closed. They were furnished, and someone from a service came in and dusted, but he never used them. Garrett kept the french doors to those rooms shut and never even turned his head as he walked through the entrance hall to the stairs.

In his bedroom, he closed the door and turned on the television. Clothes adorned just about every available space, so Garrett grabbed a basket from the floor of the closet, scooped everything into it, and took the back stairs down to the kitchen and laundry area. He shoved the clothes into the machine and got it going. Some fucking vacation: doing the laundry he’d neglected for weeks and searching through the refrigerator for something edible and finding nothing. He slammed the door shut, opened the nearest drawer in the granite-topped island, and grabbed a take-out menu that looked interesting. He made a call, and soon food was on the way.

Garrett pulled out one of the stools from under the counter, perched himself on it, and opened the laptop he kept there. He hated this room. It was beautiful and gleaming, with white counters, a professional stove, and a stainless double refrigerator. It was gorgeous… and he couldn’t stand it, hated sitting in it. The kitchen had been David’s domain, and now it sat empty. Well, not exactly empty. The drawers and cabinets were full, perfectly organized, and exactly as David had left them.

He googled vacation getaways, and pictures with people boating, happy and having a good time, filled his screen. God, the thought of all those people, yammering and yapping on and on about nothing, made his stomach clench. Though the boating thing might not be so bad. David could get seasick in the bathtub, so Garrett hadn’t been on the water in years, though he did know how to sail. He pulled up a map and started looking around for an out-of-the-way place that was warm. Then he searched for boat rentals and made a few calls. By the time his dinner arrived, he had a plan, and before he could finish his kung pao chicken, he had a reservation and plane ticket. Damn, God bless the internet. All he had to do was get to the airport on time.

Life, especially his, was never quite that simple. He had to call the cleaning company to let them know he’d be away, though he didn’t cancel the appointment since they had a key, and his neighbors so they could make sure the house looked lived in and get his mail.

Just one last call to make.

“Jilly, I’m going on vacation,” he told his sister when she answered.

“Jesus Christ, it’s about fucking time,” she blurted, then groaned as he heard his niece in the background.

“What’s fucking time, Mommy?” At four, Nikki repeated everything.

“Nothing, honey. Why don’t you go watch Dora? I’ll be in there in a minute,” Jilly said, sounding on the edge as well. “Mike has been on a business trip for a week, and I’m about ready to climb the walls. Is there any way I can go on this vacation with you?” Her tone said she was kidding, but not. Mike was not one of Garrett’s favorite people, and he’d gone so far as to run a background check on the guy to see if there was anything he could use to get him lost and never to be found. No such luck. It wasn’t that Mike was such a bad guy, but Jilly spent a lot of time home alone while he was gallivanting around the world, and his family needed him.

“Sure. Grab the kids, leave your husband, and come spend the next month with me on a sailboat.” He was joking, but Jilly sighed wistfully, as though tempted. “Anyway, would you stop by the house and make sure nothing happens to it and shit?”

She paused. “You’re really doing the sailboat thing? We haven’t done that since we were in college. Good for you. Do Mom and Dad know?”

He groaned. “Really? Like I’m going to announce to them that I’m going. I can just hear Mom. ‘Oh, that beautiful house of yours is going to be empty. I think your father and I will come into the city for a few days.’” He pitched his voice higher, doing a pretty good impression of his mom. “By the time I got home, the place would be a disaster, with every dish piled in the sink, everything a complete mess, and them nowhere to be found because they left two days earlier.” He knew exactly what would happen because it had before. “And if Mom and Dad do find out, I changed the alarm passcode.” He gave it to her. “If you pass it on, I will have to kill you.”

“Got it.” Jilly knew firsthand how their mother was. Being the youngest, she had gotten the full brunt of their mom’s laziness and the guilt she could lay on anyone who tried to point that fact out to her. “You will call me while you’re gone?”

“I’ll try. It isn’t like there’s cell service on the water, but I plan to island-hop for a while, and I’ll call you when I dock. And of course, you can tell Nikki and Davey….” Every time he thought of his one-year-old nephew, he choked. Jilly had named him after David, and…. He didn’t need to go there. “I’ll find some cute things for the kids.” Garrett really liked being the favorite uncle. Actually, he was the only uncle, but details… details.

“When are you leaving?”

“Tomorrow morning. There was a seat on a flight out of BWI to St. Thomas. From there I’m heading south, and I’ll pick up the boat in Barbados.” Sun, warmth, sand, quiet—they all called to him. He needed them like he needed air and water.

“You can count on me to keep my mouth shut. Just have a good time, and don’t forget us landlubbers up north, freezing our bits off.” She laughed as Nikki fussed in the background about being hungry. “And I won’t say anything to Mom and Dad. But you should call them. They miss you.”

“I will, but not until I can talk to them without grinding my teeth and wanting to argue with every boneheaded thing Mom says simply because she either thinks it’s funny or cute.” There was no way he could take that right now. His mother didn’t have opinions. She changed her mind depending on whoever she and his dad were with, and she could say the stupidest things just because it was what she thought someone she wanted to like her wanted to hear.

Nikki was having some kind of breakdown or tantrum in the background, so Garrett figured it was time to go.

“I’ll talk to you soon. You take care of yourself. And kick Mike in the nuts if he isn’t helping you.” Jilly let him get away with doing too little as far as Garrett was concerned.

Jilly laughed. “I may just do that. But he’s promised me he’ll be home for the next couple of months, so I’ll have some help, and no matter what you think of him, Mike is a great dad.”

When he is home. Garrett didn’t say that part, just told her goodbye and hung up the phone.

It was already late and he still had to pack and arrange for a ride to the airport. With a sigh, he slid off the stool, shut down the small laptop, and slid it into his backpack. Then he returned upstairs, found some luggage—purposely ignoring that it had been David’s—and set to work.